I have a confession to make: My nine-year-old spent about a two weeks playing Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360, and I had no idea he was doing it.
My wife and I set up parental locks on the console and on Tristan’s Xbox Live gold account, which allows him to play online. But I underestimated just how crafty our son can be.
Like all children his age, Tristan found a loophole in the rules that I had laid out and that the Xbox 360 was enforcing. He managed to discover a way around Microsoft’s fairly robust parental controls: His parents.
Here’s how: My wife and I allow Tristan to create maps in Halo 3, just maps. That means no playing the game. And he’s very good about doing just that; not playing, just making maps. For Tristan, Halo 3’s map maker is like virtual building blocks.
But we set up Tristan’s account to prevent him from playing mature-rated games like Halo 3. So every time our son asked to create a map in the game we had to manually unlock the console with our password. Earlier this month Tristan started surreptitiously switching the game in the console that my wife was unlocking to Modern Warfare 2, getting her to unwittingly unlock the first-person shooter.
Eventually, we caught him in the act.
It’s a reminder that as parents we have to remain constantly vigilant. Something Microsoft gets. It’s part of the reason, it seems, that the company is rolling out even more robust parental controls come this fall.
Due out this November, the Xbox Live Gold Family plan will run you $US99 for up to four linked Xbox Gold accounts, accounts that normally come in at just under $US50 a pop. And if you don’t use all four accounts immediately you can always activate them later.
Upgrading to the Xbox Live Gold Family plan isn’t just a good deal, it also gives you access to the Family centre, a new area in Xbox Live that includes many more ways to monitor your child’s gaming habits.
You can, under the new system, divvy out an allowance of points that can be spent on Xbox 360 games, avatars and add-ons. You will also be able to track exactly what all four account holders are doing through an online monitor. The family plan will also include regular discounts geared toward families, like maybe a price cut for a game like Uno on Xbox Live.
What intrigues me most about the Family centre is that activity monitor, which can show you what games are being played by each account holder and for how long.
While it won’t break down what’s going on inside non-gaming applications, it can show you how long they’re being used. For instance, you can see how long your son was watching movies or TV shows using NetFlix on the Xbox 360, but not what he was watching.
Microsoft is also rolling out new parental controls to all Xbox Live members, whether they are family plan subscribers or not.
Finally, the Xbox 360 is letting you make exceptions to the ratings rules you set up on the console. In other words, you can choose specific games that your child can play, like Halo 3, no matter what rating you’ve locked out on the console. That way you won’t have to manually enter a code every time you want to grant them access to that game.
It’s a fantastic addition to a fantastic tool for parenting gamer children, one that acknowledges that even the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s robust ratings can’t satisfy 100 percent of the parents 100 percent of the time.
Jerret West, senior group product manager of Xbox Live subscriptions, tells Kotaku that Microsoft decided to roll out these changes and create a new Family plan because they feel the Xbox 360 is becoming more of an entertainment box than a video game console.
“A lot of what we announced at E3 are things that will bring a lot more people into Xbox Live,” West said.
That includes the Xbox 360’s motion-sensing Kinect add-on and the addition of ESPN to the console.
“Our goal,” West said, “is more participation and making the console easier to use.”
Both as a gamer and a parent, it seems.
Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.